Pitt’s three operating postures present challenges on all levels


As Pitt moves closer and closer to starting the fall semester, messages have been coming fast and furious from the administration to update the University’s current status and preparedness for the return to campus.


The anticipated schedule of major announcements includes:

Early July: Additional information on housing, vulnerable populations, alternative enrollment options for international students and international travel safety guidance for students, faculty and staff.

Mid July: More technology and space details for the Flex @ Pitt instructional model, scheduling and academic support, extracurricular activities and non-academic support, as well as principles for meetings, events and travel.

Late July: Virus testing, symptom monitoring, quarantining and contact tracing protocols.

More announcements, including updates to guidelines for research and parameters for working within our facilities, will be announced throughout July. Find information at coronavirus.pitt.edu.

In the past week, emails have gone out from Provost Ann Cudd directed mostly to faculty; from Dave DeJong, vice chancellor for Human Resources, focusing on staff; from Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner focusing on students; and from Chancellor Patrick Gallagher to faculty, staff and students giving an overall outline of the University’s three risk-based operational postures — Guarded Risk, Elevated Risk and High Risk, which roughly align with the state’s green, yellow and red statuses.

In a video message to the Pitt community, Gallagher said that the Resilience Framework, “is not an emergency response plan. It’s a management plan and we will use it over the long term. It will help us to stay flexible, so Pitt is still Pitt, regardless of what course this virus takes.”

On July 13, the Pittsburgh campus will move from the emergency status it adopted in March to the Elevated Risk operational posture, Gallagher said. At this level, faculty and staff are still encouraged to work from home wherever possible, gatherings are capped at 25 people and instruction is done primarily virtually.  

At the same time, the regional campuses will move from emergency status to Guarded Risk. Faculty and staff are still encouraged to work from home wherever possible, but those who are needed to support students and other permitted activities are allowed on campus. Gatherings are capped at 250 people.

Under the High-Risk status, the University, including housing, would remain open, but almost all instruction would happen online, and no campus life activities would be permitted.

The University’s Healthcare Advisory Group has established universal health rules to help keep the Pitt community safe. The group appointed by the chancellor is still working on plans for virus testing, symptom monitoring, quarantining and contact tracing. It also will play a part in deciding when to move from one operating posture to another.

Under all the plans, the health precautions that have become so familiar to all of us — social distancing, hand washing, not touching your face — will still be in place. Time with others should be limited, especially in small spaces like elevators and bathrooms.

And, of course, face coverings will be the norm. On July 1, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an order mandating face masks be used in all public places, including outdoors when a distance of 6 feet cannot be consistently maintained.

According to Pitt’s COVID-19 Standards and Guidelines: A face covering is to be worn in campus buildings, except while eating or in an enclosed private, single occupancy space, such as a private study room or office; and in single-occupancy spaces that are used by others, such as copier rooms and bathrooms. In the High-Risk posture, a face mask also should be worn in public and on campus.

“Keep your face covering with you as you would your cell phone and be ready to wear it in any situation in which you are not in control of your space, such as lobbies, elevators, and even outside,” the guidelines state.

Facilities personnel will continue to follow enhanced cleaning protocols with special attention is paid to interior ventilation to ensure it supports a healthy and safe work environment. More than 400 hand sanitizing stations have been installed around campus

Faculty, staff and students will be responsible for enhanced cleaning of their work areas and shared spaces, like desks and office doorknobs. Cleaning supplies will be provided.

What does it mean for me?

All the guidance coming from Pitt is a bit overwhelming. We’ll try to sort out what it all means for each group of stakeholders at Pitt.


Perhaps the greatest challenge is for faculty, who must figure out how to teach with students in a classroom and remote, and possibly with the instructor operating remotely and students attending in the classroom. We reached out to faculty for their reaction to the new operational postures. Read about their reactions and how faculty will be expected to proceed in this related story.


While some research and Pitt Athletics staff have been returning to campus, most continue to work from home, and that’s not changing anytime soon.

Under all three operational postures, staff are asked to “continue to work from home for the duration of the pandemic, except when their presence on campus is needed to support students, research and other essential operations.” This will help reduce the total population on campus as students begin to return.

Staggered schedules and other strategies will be used to help limit the number of people on campus at any one time. At the Guarded-Risk status, department and unit leadership will be making decisions about who will be on campus and when, and the return of research staff will be determined by principal investigators. But as the risk increases, the decision-making on these issues will revert to senior leadership.

Even for those on campus, gatherings or department meetings should be held remotely. Some limited capacity gatherings can take place in the two lower-risk postures, if those attending can be physically distant.

For those at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, or who live with someone who is, have transportation concerns or are facing child-care challenges, the University will work with them to provide accommodations. Supervisors, deans and department chairs will be receiving detailed guidance and resources for navigating these situations. 

More guidance will be coming on how employees will be brought back to campus when necessary, and how each workplace will be structured. Pitt Athletics has been bringing people back in batches every two weeks since early June and has developed a detailed plan for behavior in the office setting.


The plan remains for students to resume classes remotely on Aug. 19 and then transition to in-person classes, where appropriate, on Aug. 24.

What classes will remain online or will have a rotating cohort of students in-person while the rest participate remotely still has to be decided. Joseph McCarthy, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies, has said previously that classroom capacity will be reduced by 50 percent.

Any student can choose not to return to campus if they don’t feel safe or have underlying health issues. These students will still be able to engage with instructors and classmates online using video conferencing technology. Alternative enrollment options also are being worked out for international students who can’t make it back to campus.

Housing also will look quite different. The Board of Trustees Property and Facilities Committee approved a plan on June 25 to spend $22 million to lease space in local hotels to house students. The move is intended to de-densify the residence halls that have communal bathrooms. Students who had previously submitted housing deposits were asked this week to reconfirm their housing application and state whether they had a preference for a residence hall or a hotel.

One of the central tenets of any return to campus is that each member of the Pitt community has to be responsible for helping protect the health and safety of others. Kenyon Bonner’s message to students this week said the University is developing a Pitt Community Compact — “an agreement written by representatives from our student body to ensure we’re all working together to keep Pitt as healthy as possible.”

The compact would be for everyone on campus and would be worked into an expanded Student Code of Conduct to reflect behavioral requirements, such as agreeing to wear face masks where the University says they are required.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.


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